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Edward Said is best known for describing and critiquing "Orientalism", which he perceived

as a constellation of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the East. In


''Orientalism'', Said described the "subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against
Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture." He argued that a long tradition of false and
romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an
absolute justification for Europe and America's colonial and imperial ambitions Just as
fiercely, he denounced the practice of Arab elites who adopted the American and British
Orientalist' ideas of Arabic culture. In 1980 Said criticized what he regarded as poor
understanding of the Arab culture in the West.

"Orientalism" and other work by Said have sparked notable controversy in the academic
community.

1. Ernest Gellner argued that Said's argument that the West had dominated the East
for more than 2,000 years (since the composition of Aeschylus’s ''The Persians'')
was unsupportable, noting that until the late 17th century the Ottoman Empire had
posed a serious threat to Europe. Mark Proudman notes that Said claimed the
British Empire extended from Egypt to India in the 1880s, when in fact the Ottoman
and Persian empires intervened.
2. Another criticism is that the areas of the Middle East on which Said had
concentrated, including Palestine and Egypt, were poor examples for his theory, as
they came under European control only for a relatively short period in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries. These critics suggested that Said devoted much less
attention to more apt examples, including the British Raj in India, and Russia’s
dominions in Asia, because Said was more interested in making political points
about the Middle East. Ibn Warraq was the most recent critic of Said's Orientalism
in his book; ''Defending the West: a Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism''
3. Some of Said's academic critics argue that Said made no attempt to distinguish
between writers of very different types: such as on the one hand the poet Goethe
(who never even travelled in the East), the novelist Flaubert (who undertook a brief
stay in Egypt), Ernest Renan (whose work is widely regarded as tainted by racism),
and on the other scholars such as Edward William Lane who was fluent in Arabic. In
Said's mind their common European origins and attitudes, overrode such
considerations as they contended. Irwin points out that Said entirely ignored the
fact that Oriental studies in the 19th century were dominated by Germans and
Hungarians, from countries that, inconveniently for Said's purposes, did not possess
an Eastern empire.

Said’s supporters argue that such criticisms, even if correct, do not invalidate his basic
thesis, which they say still holds true for the 19th and 20th centuries and in particular for
general representations of the Orient in Western media, literature and film. Both
supporters of Edward Said and his critics acknowledge the profound, transformative
influence that his book ''Orientalism'' has had across the spectrum of the humanities; but
whereas his critics regret his influence as limiting, his supporters praise his influence as
liberating.

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